A Few Apps for Relaxing

There seems to be an app out there for everything. This blog post is dedicated to a variety of apps aimed to help you relax.  I’ve tried out some of the highest rated apps to see what works and what needs improvement. Below are a variety of apps that range from zenful games to guided relaxation techniques.

1. Pocket Pond 2

This is a cute relaxing game that’s easy to interact with.  When starting out, the app does provide guided instructions on how to play with and maintain your koi pond. I enjoyed the water sounds and graphics; however, it seems that not all parts the app are working correctly.  For instance, the social section that looks for your friends who may also be playing this game times out.  Because of that, I don’t have the option to visit other ponds and trade fish. Overall it’s a good concept and is easy to use and play.

2. Calm

Calm is absolutely lovely. Upon opening the app you are greeted with leaves being shaken by a gentle rain.  Very relaxing.  This is followed by a three minute breathing exercise diving you right into a more clamed state of mind. If you don’t like the rain, that’s ok.  There are multiple scene options to choose from that you don’t have to “unlock” like with other apps. Depending on what you would like to focus on which ranges from your sleep, happiness, focus, or self-esteem, this app offers multiple day courses to help you mediate on these areas. Don’t worry about remembering to do these meditation exercises everyday, the app will remind you.

3. Down Dog

This is a great app for the cost, free. If you are a yoga beginner like me, this app helps.  This is a great way to practice at home with a yoga studio like feel. Each time you open it, the yoga experience is different so you aren’t doing the same sequence each time.  The music and voice guided instructions are soothing; however, I personally would rather have video instruction rather than pictures. That’s the only downside I’ve found with the app.

4. Zen Sand

If you are looking for a relaxing logic game, this would be a good choice. The idea is to figure out how to guide sand into various jars using bamboo sticks. It definitely stretches the mind and the atmosphere  is complimented nicely by seasons, graphics, and zen like music. This is a good game to get sucked into.

Although these are just a few of the relaxation apps out there, there are plenty more to explore. Play around with what works for you. Do you have a great app on your phone that helps you de-stress?  If so, please share it below.

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Being Mentally Ready

The shooting range has 9 points; definitely not enough to accommodate all the competitors at one time. Those not shooting in the first relay shuffle into an adjoining room.  No one wants to watch the first group; it might affect their own performance. Competitive shooting is a mental game and you have to keep yourself “in the zone” just like any other sport.  I know, I used to competitively shoot for 8 years. But how do you condition yourself to mentally be ready for anything?

You have to know yourself well.  For instance, knowing your mental and physical stressors plays a key roll.  For example, like many other shooters, I know I cannot watch others on the shooting line before it’s my turn. If my teammates aren’t shooting their best, I feel the anxiety to make up for the points they’ve missed. Keeping myself out of my own head wards off anxiety and nervousness. If nervous, my heart rate increases and mussels tense.  This is a nightmare since I can see my rifle bounce with every heartbeat making it harder to call where my shot is going to go. Since there is downtime, it is not uncommon to find most of us seeking comfort in the reruns of “happy tree” painter Bob Ross. It is a relaxing escape that distracts from the stress of competition. Everyone has their own ritual to keep  from mentally destroying themselves. Get to know your triggers and practice suppressing those things that can hinder your performance.

 

 

Knowing your physical capabilities helps with the mental control. We all have to perform and provide results everyday and most of the time we need to do so in suboptimal conditions.  In competition we have gear that helps but what happens if you forget a piece when you are traveling?  This happens ALL the time.  To overcome, we would practice without a piece of gear or with folks heckling you to test your concentration.  By knowing we can adapt to these obstacles with preparation, it helps fight off those panic moments when we realize things aren’t perfect.

Like I mentioned earlier, we all have to perform everyday. Get your mind in the right state and avoid those things you know will affect your performance.  Don’t let physical obstacles throw off your mental game. When possible, think of potential scenarios where problems can arise and practice solutions that can help you mentally tough it out. Know of a good strategy?  Please share below.

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Give to Others

It’s been a full day of work at the day job and my brain is already mush since it’s the beginning of April and tax season is still in full force.  Walking into the community center there are families lining the walls.  Each patiently waiting their turn. Children bounce back and forth from seat to seat almost like it’s a new form of musical chairs.  Although it could have been the end of my day, I chose to be here and am happy to do it.

Like many, I find satisfaction in helping those who need it.  In this case, why not use skills I already have to help families file their taxes?  By volunteering my time, I get the satisfaction of making a difference; that I’ve improved someone’s situation and that’s fulfilling. But don’t take my word for it, in the Forbes article 5 Surprising Benefits of Volunteering, studies have shown that volunteering leads to better health, including “lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.” So why not give back and get some good health in return?

But of course volunteering can be a commitment.  Before hopping into a cause, figure out what you have to give; especially time. Like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, I know they only need help between January and April 15th.  Other organizations like The Mentor Center of Western Nevada are looking for a commitment of at least a year which includes weekly involvement. Think about what skills you have that could help someone else in need and when you can give them.

 

 

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Work on Loving Yourself

Did you know there are different kinds of meditation?  I didn’t.  A friend had told me about the kind of meditation she practices called Metta meditation.  This form of meditation that focuses on love and kindness.  In practice, the idea is to start with thoughts of love and kindness towards yourself and slowly move to bigger circles outside yourself to include family, friends, and eventually towards people you don’t necessarily get along with. In attempting this relaxation method, I found mixed results.

The first step is to focus on yourself.  Tell yourself that you are allowed to be happy, to be at peace, to be well.  The point is to reinforce these intentions. Other similar messages are fine as long as you are emphasizing love and kindness inward. I found that repeating similar phrases calmed me down. I didn’t feel quiet so stressed. That I was doing my best and that was ok. We usually find ourselves as our biggest critics so this would be a good way to allow yourself to relax and see yourself a little differently.

After allowing yourself to accept happiness, expand your circle to include loved ones.  Continue to expand those thoughts of love and kindness to friends, neutral people, and eventually to those you find difficult to handle. This is where I find the exercise not so relaxing. As I move onto people I have difficulties with, emotions of frustration or even anger surface. Apparently, with practice, these feelings will diminish.

Although meditation is meant to be an ongoing process, the benefits from focusing on yourself and your loved ones is emotionally freeing. With additional practice we can open ourselves up to feeling more love and kindness towards others and reduce those negative emotions that flare up. You can try it yourself by using these guided instructions.

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Finding Comfort in Meaningful Projects

In the awkward space between my living room and kitchen is a bright red cabinet.  It has lots of character with the brush strokes visible and various hues of red throughout the whole thing.  It’s accented well by flat black hardware and pops along the grey/green wall.  However, this has not always been the case. This tiny thigh-high cabinet used to be pea soup green and sat in the laundry room of my grandmothers home. After her passing, the cabinet found its way into my care. By restoring the cabinet with the same bright character of my grandmother, I am able to find comfort each time I look at it.

There are a few different ideas on finding something meaningful to work on that’ll bring you bliss.  You just need to find one that works for you.  Like I had done with the little red cabinet, you could find something with sentimental value,  whether that be restoring an old family quilt, saving old black and white photos to disk, or putting a protective seal on an antique ring.  We can restore those items not just to preserve them physically, but to protect their meaning and bring back those memories and feelings for a long time to come.

Another example would be to create something for someone else.  By providing a homemade gift, you create a stronger bond with that person.  You’ve shown that you’ve put thought and creativity into something custom for them, plus we all find joy in watching someone else enjoy the moment we’ve created for them. For example, I paddleboard as I’ve mentioned in my post Give in to the Paddle, and one amazing gift I had received was a custom wood paddle with a turtle emblem and although I have multiple paddles, that is the one I bring with me every time I’m on the lake. Another example would be a gift I had made for Fathers Day one year. I had spent weeks creating a scrapbook from old family fishing photos.  My dad loved it so much that it’s forever sitting out in his living room. By putting such effort into personalized gifts, we provide more meaning, made obvious by the recipient’s reaction. Besides, you’ll find this happiness is contagious.

Lastly, work on a project with someone you love. Instead of starting with something that already has sentimental value or just working alone, like mentioned above, start with something fresh.  This could be working on a yard sale find with your sister or slowly resorting an old car with your son. Either way, you can create a project that lasts. Have a great project idea?  Please share it below!

 

 

 

 

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AcroYoga: Give It a Try

Standing in the living room we looked at each other and both realized this could be dangerous.  We slid all the furniture to the edges of the room, clicked on the Scentsy to add an extra layer of relaxation, and slammed the drapes open to let some of the Spring sunshine in.  Since we felt the rug wasn’t going to be enough cushion if we crashed, not to mention the hardwood if we missed the rug, we sprawled out some yoga mats and towels. It didn’t take much convincing to get a partner for this activity. This was going to be our first official AcroYoga experience together. For me, the appeal was being able to workout without it feeling like work, having a buddy to connect with while doing it, plus it looked challenging.

I’ve seen some pretty crazy poses where I thought, “Nope, that’s never going to happen.” Even some of the beginner poses looked intimidating, but I found my partner and I could get into the majority of them.  Of course this required a few tries.  When shifting into position, use slower movements to keep balanced since you’re trying to find the balance between two people instead of just yourself.

The foundation of AcroYoga is focused on trust, playfulness, and community.  I could see how a community or cult following would result from this activity.  How could it not when all you need is space and people? But I won’t go as far as to explore the community. The fun was in the playfulness that came with trying new poses.  Both of us were clumsy, giggled, and made funny faces as we tried to hold our positions.  Besides, some of the poses require you to be balanced on the feet of your partner and it does take a bit of trust hoping that they won’t launch you across the room.

Of course AcroYoga is much different than the Bikram yoga I talked about in a prior blog post, but it’s still relaxing.  By not letting the poses intimidate you, you can workout some of the stresses of the day with your partner.  Exploring the poses and laughing through them definitely creates a bond with you and your partner. Try some of these beginner poses today. All you need is a buddy and some space.

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Some Tips to Reduce Tax Time Stress

With the deadline for filing your taxes fast approaching, I know there are some folks out there feeling a bit stressed.  As a tax accountant I can see some of the anxiety that clients get just by looking at their notes on the papers they provide.  Many are looking for a little extra help since it can be overwhelming. Here are a number of tips to help you either get through your taxes or help prepare you for next year:

  1. Start with what you had last year

This seems to be a common mistake I see with most taxpayers.  When gathering all their tax information, they tend to forget to incorporate all the pieces. List out all the items you have this year such as the number of W2’s, brokerage statements, and all rental income and costs, etc..  Afterwards, compare that to your tax return from last year.  Basically, did everything you have last year apply for this year and is there anything on your return from last year that you don’t have records for this year?  This is a good starting point. From there,  adjust for any changes during the year. Did you change jobs, have a child, or purchase a house?

  1. Have a tax folder

Throughout the year, taxpayers do activities that will affect their taxes. My suggestion is this: as you go through the year collect all those records in one place so you can add them after you’ve completed point number one above. This would include donation receipts, medical receipts, rental home improvement receipts, etc.

  1. File early

There are a couple benefits to filing early.  Number one is that with more fraudulent tax returns being filed, the earlier you file, the less likely a fraudster can file a return and get your refund.  If a return is already filed in your name and accepted by the IRS, the second return will get rejected and will not be accepted by the IRS.  Second, you’ll avoid the rush.  Even with simple tax returns, it could take upwards of an hour to complete the filing process with an online tax software  package such as Turbotax. You want to avoid making a mistake, so start early and save it for later if you need to walk away.

  1. The extension is an option

Sometimes things get a little messy.  It’s ok to file an extension if you need more time to get your all your tax items in order; however,  I highly recommend paying as much of what you think you’ll owe before April 15th.  Although you can extend the filing of the return, the IRS does not postpone when the payment is due and as a result will start accruing interest.  Reduce these extra fees by paying what you can before the deadline.

These are just a few tips to help you get through the process and make it a little less painful.  If you know of someone stressing over getting their taxes done this year, please share this article with them.

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